WE NEED MORE ITEM BLOGGERS
During those days when I felt like a caffeinated hamster running in a wheel - having to find six columns a week can do that for you - I got a memo from Doug Creighton, the amiable but tough critic of every last bit of writing in his Toronto Sun.
"Liked your column today. It would be great if you wrote more item columns," he said.
I fought with Creighton regularly in his role as founding publisher of the Sun and indeed the whole Sun chain. Even when we were drinking. But I didn't respond to this hint because I knew he was right. And I also knew, as any columnist does who has to dance naked daily before the readers, that there would be few item columns from me, also called three-dot columns because of the usual typographical device to separate the paras, because any daily columnist who figures they can stretch an item to a full column isn't going to waste the opportunity.
After all, tomorrow beckons with skeletal fingers.
Most columnists know they stretch and repeat, and it's better to shoot as if the targets are political clay pigeons. But except for the entertainment department's recycling of press releases and movie guff, and the humorous bits cobbled together by Page 6 performers like Dunford in his glory, few do it. Look inside the item sports columns and you see that some items are serialized
You may have only one jab or nice turn of phrase on the subject. Still, you still stretch it out. Like too many news stories. My job used to be to do "follows" on the final edition so big stories would have a fresh angle for the next day's paper. I certainly learned from experience that most stories are 95% old stuff and, if you're lucky, a provocative icing on top of the old fruit cake.
If only more bloggers acted more sensibly than to give us repetitive harangues.
If only the Star didn't use every opportunity when Mayor Ford steps into another cow flap to recite everything he has ever done wrong, from an ancient drunk driving conviction to, perhaps, cheating in the sand box.
Before I take potshots, for a change. let me get into the Star vs. Ford and drinking and appearing spaced out or whateverinhell is his latest boo boo is supposed to be.
I am sensitive on the subject of booze accusations, not because it is so common in the news business but because I once overheard the whisper that one reason the Toronto Telegram failed was because Creighton and Downing, two of the bosses, drank so much.
The fact the gossiper was a woman I've known since we were in Grade 1 really made it sting. All she was doing was repeating some malicious comment by someone that either Creighton or I had disciplined or fired. As the managing editor and the assistant managing editor, we found it difficult to keep everyone happy, especially when the ship was listing.
The casual observer might think that the two of us spent a lot of time partying or at lunch. But the same observer would not know that we came to the Tely at 6 a.m., worked until about 12.30, then went for a nice restorative lunch, probably at the old Franz Josepf Room or Swiss Bear in the vanished Walker House, came back to the office about 2 to put out the latest fires, and the final edition, and then worked and planned until 6 or 7. In addition to that 50-hour work day, we often were out in the evening and weekends on must occasions like boring banquets.
There often was rum in my diet coke, but often there wasn't, and no one knew except bartenders. And unless you get falling-down drunk and drive, it's no one's damn business. I could be on the wagon for a month and no one knew, which is the way it should be. Many of us who work and play hard and love a cold one take pauses from time to time. And the mayor certainly is under constant pressure and often under a hostile microscope which records his every fart and belch.
Occasionally Ceighton and I went to the early races, and had a great time, often with Toronto Star editors who relaxed the same way even if the Star has always had some sanctimonious executives.
Now some potshots, which are a lot more fun than anything about the Star.
Isn't it about time that critics and bloggers and bloated letter writers retired or trashed that stupid comment by Conrad Black that all journalists are either lazy or intellectually dishonest? After all, there are legions of North Americans who were cheated by Black and his cronies because he was so lazy and intellectually dishonest that he lived on our money, not his.
The Establishment figured out Black before the rest of us did. But they had a head start because of his cheating at Upper Canada College. As one Establishment pillar, Hal Jackman, the former lieutenant-governor, said famously, Conrad was a friend of his but he never dreamed of investing in one of his companies.
I think it is bizarre, considering his dismal record and court losses, that Black gets published in the Post, and I told Paul Godfrey that in person. He didn't even blush when he said Black got the highest rating in readership surveys. Shame on Post readers? I'm with the financial community of stock brokers and furious investors who sent in petitions saying Black should be stripped of his Order of Canada.
Ironically, if reporters acted the way Black has through the years, they would never be able to keep a job.
Don't all transit funding stories sound the same?
Can you image in this over-taxed land that anyone sane would regularly propose new taxes to help subsidize transit riders who already cost city taxpayers an annual fortune.
When the board, composed of fatcats who can pick their own times to come and go, thus avoiding the rushhours, recommends a 1% regional sales tax and a 10-cent tax on each liter of gas, it's ignoring the fact that all of us who don't have tax lawyers on their speed dial already lose half of our income to taxes.
The existing excessive tax on our gas was started originally to pay for road and transportation improvements only. And that was the widely publicized excuse. Now it is used to bail out governments when they're going bankrupt on their latest wet dreams. There's more than enough collected there to fund a subway to Hudson Bay with all those nice new trains that look so great when they're not jammed like railway cattle cars.
If you want more proof about how gasoline taxes used to be justified by politicians, consider that when when President Dwight Eisenhower built the mighty interestate highway network in the U.S., he said this may cost a fortune (hundreds of billions in present dollars) but it wouldn't be paid for out of income tax but by taxes on the gasoline used by all the motorists who would use roads like I-75 to drive the width and length of the country.
I'm sure that the same arguments were used when the 400 highway network was built in Ontario.
I actually tried to get around the U.S. and Canada before all the super roads were built. The trips were longer, indeed we now drive the same distance in half the time.
It was big news when the Davis government eliminated the last tolls on roads in Ontario. Now the idiots want us to this again? C'mon, tolls were originally collected by workers who got their jobs through politics. So now we avoid more government workers in booths and go to electronic devices like transponders. And then we hire a lot more people to look after the balky gadgets and collect the payments, an operation which, as has been shown from the stupid operation of 407, can be inept and infurtiating.
The public is smarter than the pols since polls show that there is wide skepticism on transit taxes even though everyone knew that we were supposed to tell the pollsters that we really did believe it was fair and intelligent to let governments steal a lot more bucks out of our wallet .
Another story about another chief planner who walks downtown and takes a short subway ride to work. Maybe we should only hire major planners and transportation officials who face gridlock daily and don't ignore or write off the concerns of the millions who chose not to live downtown with the comfortable and the young not smart enough yet to reduce their overhead by not paying a ransom to own or rent condos.
Let's have less crap about the virtues of walking and cycling and more serious study on improving the existing network by removing the kinks because most people and all commerce move around by vehicles while also paying hefty subsidies to the transit riders. And, oh yes, hefty fuel taxes.
Ralph Klein was an untidy hard-drinking Tory populist mayor and later premier, exactly the kind of man who would have bothered the hell out of the Toronto Star and the semantic egotist, Conrad Black.
After all, he started life as a City Hall reporter. And somehow despite the sleazy laziness that Black tars all journalists with, even before they reported his convictions and court defeats with relish, he managed to become the legendary King Ralph who was one of the most popular politicians ever to hoist a beer in Calgary.
Golly, you think the reason the Star hates another other overweight populist so much is because it fears he may also go on to be a premier several times. Have to nip these people politicians in the bud so they can't become politically incorrect Grit-haters who scorn the phoneys and pretentious.
No, that is not another reference to Black, but it could be.
Of course the Star chose to run a picture of a fat, sweaty Klein with a drink in his hand on its Internet front page after Ralph died. Assholes!